Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Notes From the Off Weeks

When the Formula 1 cars were last on track, they were racing in Bahrain and Lewis Hamilton drove away to a decent gap and managed his car to the finish to earn his third win of the year. That makes it three out of four for the Mercedes driver and offers a foreboding sense to the season – that it will be an easy repeat for the defending champion.

This notion was backed by Hamilton himself when he stated that the only driver that could challenge him for the title this year is his teammate, Nico Rosberg. Rosberg had a chance at the title last year but it always felt more like something that had little chance of coming to fruition, like an ostrich taking flight – sure, it’s a bird and it’s got wings but it’s not going to happen.

Though Ferrari has made substantial gains this year, after floundering in 2014, all they have done is merely taken over the position of second-best team which was previously held by Williams. While Williams has benefitted from using Mercedes engines, Ferrari’s engineers have developed their cars to go easier on the tires than Mercedes. This aspect looks to be the battle for the foreseeable future, that being outright speed versus tire management between the two.

That leaves Williams and Red Bull as the two teams duking it out for scraps. While Force India, Toro Rosso, and Lotus have all shown potential it’s doubtful that they are going to make any great leaps. The wild-card, of course, is McLaren, but there’s no way that they’re going to be challenging for anything more than positions in the lower points, if they’re fortunate, this season.

Seeing as how the series is taking this weekend off before beginning their European swing in Barcelona, Spain, next weekend, there’s no race preview. There’s still things to be covered, however.

In the Headlines

  • The big news that registered with the F1 world was the ‘leak’ of the 2016 schedule. The notable aspect as part of the unofficial release was that the season opener in Melbourne would be happening a couple weeks later than it has. That makes for a shorter season with fewer off weekends, which may help the sport as it might develop a rhythm with the schedule. One of the positives is that the season would also have 21 race weekends, and it looks like the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim will again be a part of the championship. The other addition is the Grand Prix of Europe set to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan. Once again, all of this is supposedly speculative because the schedule was ‘leaked’, if you want to believe that.
  • Williams recently released information on their financial status, or rather their status from the 2014 season. The significance? That the team reported a loss of of £34 million, or roughly $52 million. Say what! Assuming that the team took in some money along the way, that seems like an absurd amount of money to lose during a racing year. It should be noted that Williams invested heavily in themselves last year and the deficit is tied to such a move. In addition, with their strong points finish, the team will reap a large financial reward when that money is finally allotted. With the Williams announcement and rumors of Hamilton’s new salary sitting around $30 million a year, along with Sebastian Vettel’s purported $56 million a year, it’s not wonder that Bernie Ecclestone has made comments about the sport being too expensive. Then again, that’s Ecclestone pointing his fingers at the teams while he and the governing body continue to sell off the races to the highest bidders.
  • There are already rumors that Fernando Alonso is already unhappy at McLaren (insert diva/contentious driver comment here), owing not just to the performance but also to his injuries sustained during testing, and that the result is that he’s looking forward to retirement. Sure, that makes sense after the two-time champion just signed a mega-bucks deal with the team for three years. There’s no doubt that Alonso is a frustrated driver, but he has continued to be upbeat and supportive while being aware of the limitations of McLaren’s switch to Honda engines this year. These kinds of rumors seem altogether perplexing. Now, it should be noted that McLaren’s new chief engineer Peter Prodromou, who came over from Red Bull, has mentioned that McLaren had fallen behind from a design standpoint and that they’ve had to make substantial changes. He has also pushed the notion that the team will keep tinkering with the 2015 MP4-30 car because it is the platform for 2016. One question that has arisen, as the team is set to make upgrades before Barcelona, is whether Honda built an engine that is supremely quick but questionable with regard to reliability and it is the latter that they are sussing out as they continue to work on the chassis. With the rules the way they are, the engine is that one area that suffers in the way of changes – but if it is updates for reliability, that’s a different thing. Just ask Red Bull and Renault.
  • One final note. Silverstone circuit managing director Patrick Allen has voiced a concern over the current status of the sport and the racing product. He mentioned that if the results seem like a foregone conclusion before the race starts then there’s a problem. Moreso, Allen is pushing for more on-track battles, feeling that many fans want to see more “jousting” between the drivers and that those on the technical side of the sport have taken over.  hat seems like a familiar complaint really, and the reason that traction control was taken away a few years ago.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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While Ferrari made an amazing leap this year, they don’t yet seem to be level with Mercedes. That said supposedly the reason Rosberg and Hamilton had trouble at Bahrain was that the team chose to run smaller brake ducts there. The reason, more straightline speed to stay ahead of the ferrari. If true maybe there will be more battles as the year goes forward.

While down at the moment I dont think anyone seriously expects McLaren to stay at the back of the pack. They and Honda have too much money and talent to do so. Already they are closing the gap, and we can expect that to continue.

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